We are doctors, we are lawyers, we are teachers, we are scientists, we are engineers. We are medicine men, we are medicine women, we are sun dancers, we are pipe carriers, we are traditional language speakers. And we are still here.

Tara Houska is Ojibwe of Saulteaux, a citizen Couchiching First Nation Anishinaabe. She’s a tribal attorney, the National Campaigns Director of Honor the Earth and a former advisor on Native American affairs to 2020 Presidential candidate, Bernie Sanders. She advocates on behalf of tribal nations at the local and federal levels on a wide range of issues impacting indigenous peoples. She spent six months on the frontlines in North Dakota fighting the Dakota Access Pipeline.

She’s founder of Ginew collective, a grassroots, frontlines effort led by indigenous women to protect Anishinaabe territory from the destruction of Enbridge’s Line 3 tar sands project.

She is a co-founder of of Not Your Mascots , a non-profit committed to educating the public about the harms of stereotyping and promoting positive representation of Native Americans in the public sphere.

In her 2017 TedTalk, Houska passionately speaks about the historical and systematic attempts to eradicate the legitimacy of indigenous peoples’ land and culture and speaks to the overarching issues and preconceived stereotypes they are continuously  facing in  the 21st Century as result of those actions.

Trauma of indigenous peoples has trickled through the generations. Centuries of oppression, of isolation, of invisibility, have led to a muddled understanding of who we are today. In 2017, we face this mixture of Indians in headdresses going across the plains but also the drunk sitting on a porch somewhere you never heard of, living off government handouts and casino money. 

She is driven by a strong conviction to fight for and protect the remaining sacred lands and precious resources that remain to save the planet from the climate crisis, and protect our air and water for future generations. She believes that can be done through sustainable land practices,  true equality,  acceptance and a justiceand equitable treatment. But she knows that they are powerful and  come from a culture of survivors. They will continue to stand together like they just did at Standing Rock. Houska is plays in integral part of this  and will continue to stand on the front lines.

The past January, at the Minneapolis-St Paul International Airport her braids set off the scanners, and a TSA agent pulled her aside to do a pat down.  The agent,  grabbed her braids, whipped them like reins and said “giddyup”.

Houska said she felt “angry” and “humiliated.” She said she told the agent that she was not OK with how she “casually used her authority to dehumanize and disrespect me.”

After her story got picked up by local and national outlets, the TSA finally issued a response. “TSA holds its employees to the highest standards of professional conduct and any type of improper behavior is taken seriously,” the agency said in a statement.

Houska told Time “This kind of racism is not something that is new to our people,” Houska tells TIME. “This is just one small incident but it’s reflective of a larger culture.”

Houska told the Bemidji Pioneer that the agent had not been fired, but that it was never her intention to cause that. “The way that I personally felt about the situation was that I didn’t want the employee to be fired because I didn’t want that person to (be) bitter and then for no one to learn anything,” Houska told the newspaper. “I feel when it comes to empathy, people really lack that for each other, and that’s not a good thing.”

 

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